Amazon, the Kindle, and Hardcovers: Making Sense of it All

As a kid growing up, I was a reader. I loved the smell of books, loved turning the pages between my fingers, and could spend hours in a library or book store pursuing the shelves in order to feed my need for more words. I always kept a paperback close at hand. Sometimes it would be sticking out of my back pocket, and other times it would be in my knapsack depending on the time of year. As I got older, I moved to hardcover books, with their dust jackets, embossed covers, and smug author photo on the back flap. They were heftier, which meant I couldn’t stuff one in my pockets as easily (oh how I tried), but they made me feel like an adult – because only adults read hardcovers, don’t you know? Silly me.

Last week I saw something that kind of brought a tear to my eye though. Amazon reported that they have been selling more e-books for the Kindle than they have hardcover books. For the past three months, for every 100 hardcovers sold, 143 Kindle books have been purchased. I was surprised, but not shocked. After all, as someone who owns an e-reader and dabbles in the world of digital fiction, I expected this shift to come sooner or later. I would have preferred later rather than sooner, but only because I am partial to printed words that you can hold hands with like a teenage sweetheart. Books were my first love, so to hear that they are all of a sudden being outsold by 1’s and 0’s makes me sad.

While no one knows what the future of publishing is, and no one can predict the death of the printed novel or book store with any accuracy – although there are a lot of folks who try – there’s no denying the impact e-books have had on the reading public, or their popularity. At least, not anymore with the news from Amazon. I tried for as long as I could to hold on to the idea that books in their true form would always be around. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s a tumultuous time for everyone in publishing. From the agents and editors, to the writer who crafts words day in and day out, hoping to eventually make a living out of passion and hard work. With so many e-readers being shoved in our faces, and now at prices so low it almost seems criminal, it’s hard to be curious though. That’s why I bought one, and from the first time I turned it on and loaded up a book, I was hooked.

Do these numbers from Amazon represent the death of the hardcover novel? No, they don’t. Not yet, anyway. What they do signify is a great shift in the digital age of publishing. Hardcovers will still be printed, still be stocked on shelves in your local book store, and authors will still be paid huge advances to write them. All I will say is that e-readers are the DVD of the VHS publishing industry, and well, we all know how that turned out don’t we.